What does damning with faint praise mean?

I’ve only read this phrase twice. What does it mean?

It means to give someone/thing praise that is so slight and inconsequential that it actually comes across as more of an insult. Examples: “That movie was a lot better than Patch Adams” or “That has to be Michael Bolton’s best album yet” or “Your presentation went great–I could hardly tell you had a stutter at all” or “Wow! She could’ve gone to the prom with Arnie the Pig-Faced Boy, but she chose you instead. Congratulations!”

It is someone saying something vey small that is good about you, with the unspoken assumption that that is all there is, thus you are not a paragon of virtues. Your ex-boss saying “Well, at least he showed up to work on time”. Your ex-girl saying “He was very, umm… polite”. Your teacher saying “rarely runs with scissors, does not eat too much paste”.


Thanks for the answers. I guess I take things at face value too much for the “damning” to register on me.

“He shows up to work on time” would come across to me as faint praise but not damning because too many people don’t show up to work on time.

Now that it’s been explained, the only example that I see all the time and get is the one where you ask if a prospective blind date is pretty and they answer “she’s got a real nice personality”!


Now I like this one.

“S/he has a great personality.”

It’s not what one says, it’s what one doesn’t say that’s damning.

“You don’t sweat much, for a fat girl”

Major Feelgud wrote:

I’m not sure what you mean by this - face value? The expression pretty much means what it says, I thought.

I have heard of former employers asked to give a reference on a person to a prospective employer. The former boss might say “This person always dresses professionally, and his handwriting is always clear.” This is coded language - the former boss is polite enough not to want to say anything unkind (also avoid lawsuits), but the message is clear - the person couldn’t do the job. Damned with faint praise.

Frank: Well really. That’s no way to behave on your first day out.

Rocky: Ugh Ugh

Frank: But since you’re such an exceptional beauty, I am prepared to forgive you.

Rocky: Ugh Ugh

Frank: Oh, I just love success.

Riff Raff: He’s a credit to your genius, master.

Frank: Yes.

Magenta: A triumph of your will.

Frank: Yes.

Columbia: He’s O.K.

Frank: O.K.? O.K.?!? I think we can do better than that. Humph!

I had one of my characters explain “damning with faint praise” in one of my interactive stories. As an example, he said, “She’s the kind of person who intuitively knows not to wear a wedding dress to a funeral!”

After that, he explained “praising which faint damn”, which is something I think only occur in stories that I write. Example: “He really does get rather worked up when people try to defend slavery, doesn’t he?”

Or like that scene in the film American Beauty, where Annette Bening gushes to daughter Thora Birch: “Good, honey, you didn’t even screw up once!”

No one’s mentioned the source yet – it’s from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man.